Columns, Sports

Schapiro ’19: New England, enjoy it while it lasts

By
Sports Columnist
Sunday, April 22, 2018

As I sit down to write, the Boston Red Sox have just been no-hit by Sean Manaea of the Oakland Athletics. But the setback is minimal. The Red Sox are still 17-4: They have the best record in baseball and lead their division by four games. For Boston, just about everything is clicking. Twenty games into the season, their lineup and pitching rotation are running like finely-tuned machines, and they show every sign of continuing to play like frontrunners. Meanwhile around the region, the Boston Celtics are in the midst of a first-round playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks, a series they have every chance to win. The Boston Bruins lead their playoff series against the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2. And the New England Patriots’ loss in Super Bowl LI has yet to fade from memory.

Considered all together, these events lead me to ask a simple question, one which New Englanders should consider during this period of sporting prosperity. Do New England sports fans know how good they’ve got it?

It’s on display this season, of course, but New England’s sporting success goes back much further. Since the turn of the millennium, the Bruins have made the playoffs 12 times and won a Stanley Cup. The Celtics have made the playoffs 14 times and won an NBA championship. The Patriots, of course, have made the playoffs 15 times since 2000, including every year since 2008 and have emerged victorious from five out of the eight Super Bowls in which they’ve appeared. And the Red Sox, in the same time frame, have made the playoffs nine times and won three World Series.

All in all, this has almost certainly been the most successful two-decade athletic stretch for one single region in history. And it has certainly won me over. Except for when they take on my New York teams, I root for New England teams whenever they play. I even support the Patriots, though, as a Jets fan, I’m supposed to regard them as bitter rivals. So I’ve enjoyed this period of prosperity almost as much as true-blue Boston fans have. But as an objective observer, I’ve also been able to reckon with a hard truth: It won’t last forever.

Take it from me. I am a fan of the New York Mets, Jets, Rangers and Knicks. I watched the Rangers collapse in slow motion this very season: After a long run of playoff appearances over the past few years, including an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final, the 2018 Rangers fell victim to injuries and age and finished 34-39-9. The Jets have been similar — they’ve looked championship-bound several times, but it has never worked out. Chad Pennington, Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick — a few of the Jets quarterbacks since 2000 who were supposed to lead us back to greatness, but ended up falling far short of expectations. The Knicks: Carmelo Anthony! Amar’e Stoudemire! Jeremy Lin! Kristaps Porzingis! We’ve had players that most teams can only dream of, yet somehow, it just hasn’t come together.

And then there are the Mets, who over the last few years have provided an almost perfect case study in what the Red Sox could be if their luck was just a little bit worse. The Mets have all the pieces: Pitchers Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz, Addison Reed and Rafael Montero; promising young hitters Brandon Nimmo, Juan Lagares and Dominic Smith; and established veterans David Wright, Lucas Duda and Neil Walker.

Except it didn’t quite work out. Wright is on the disabled list, perhaps for the rest of his career. Walker, Reed and Duda were traded away when the team faltered behind them. Nimmo and Lagares are stuck on the bench behind higher paid, lesser performing veterans. Smith and Montero are stuck in the minors; Wheeler and Matz have been oft-injured and so far have failed to live up to their immense potentials.

Why are these failures important? Because they are all part of the normal course of running a baseball team, but the Red Sox have been able to avoid them for years. Sure, they’ve had setbacks, but it’s been a long time since a Boston team has suffered a truly devastating blow, the kind that tears a team down for a generation. Andrew Benintendi could lose his swing, or Hanley Ramirez’s power could abandon him. Mookie Betts could lose his speed, and with it, the Sox’s perennial playoff competition. It could be anything, and that’s the point. Maybe it won’t even be the Red Sox. Maybe it will be the Bruins, or the Patriots, or the Celtics, or all of them. Anything can happen in sports, and sooner or later, it will. I won’t enjoy it when the inevitable large-scale setback does occur: As I’ve said, I’m a fan of Boston teams, even the ones I’m supposed to dislike. But nevertheless, it has to happen eventually.

This may seem like a doomsday message, but it’s not. It’s a call to action and to emotion. New England, enjoy it while you can. Savor every moment that the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins are dependable playoff teams, and each year, give their fans a decent chance at a championship. Sure, great teams are fun to watch while they’re still great, and it’s easy to get swept up in the victories. But take it from someone who has seen greatness slip through a team’s fingers. Once it’s gone, you’ll miss it more than you can imagine.

James Schapiro ’19 can be reached at james_schapiro@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.